This year’s theme is Ahead by a century: the shape of things to come. We have reached a watershed moment: the community mental health movement in Canada, as embodied by the Canadian Mental Health Association, is a century old.
In the early days of the last century, CMHA founder Dr. Clarence Hincks and his supporters were talking about reducing stigma and about more humane care for people suffering from mental illness. He was ahead of his time, but if we are to think our vision of mental health in Canada into being, we have further to go. Looking back will help us leap forward.
A century later, we’re not done talking about reducing stigma and increasing access to quality care. But we can also say that so much has changed. Community mental health has transformed mental health in Canada. CMHA is proud to have played a vital leadership role in community mental health over the past century, pushing for an approach that centres on the lives of people with mental health problems, and not on the institutions and systems designed to help them.
It is a time for retrospection, but it is also a time to think forward. The third national Mental Health for All conference gives us a chance to get ahead by a century, to move decidedly towards promoting mental health, and preventing mental illness. We don’t wait for stage 4 before we treat cancer; we don’t wait for physical illness to overtake us. We take a public health approach by promoting physical health, and working to prevent the illness. When physical illness arises, we treat it early and with all we have. Mental health should be no different.
Looking ahead by a century means looking upstream: upstream to mental health promotion, to preventing mental illness. Our current system is based on responding to crisis, and to meeting the acute needs of people with severe mental illness. We know there is so much more that can be done, and done earlier. We have learned that access to high quality services that are timely, person-centered, and culturally responsive are key.
It’s a time to envision the future of mental health in Canada; a time to invest in a future where schools are places that foster resilience in our children; campuses are places where risk factors for mental illness are reduced; workplaces are psychologically safe spaces, and where communities are diverse and thriving.
This year’s conference builds on last year’s whole-of-country focus and issues a call to action for all of us. We want schools, campuses, workplaces, people with lived experience of struggle and recovery, care providers and health care facilities, municipalities, and all communities to think outside the box toward a population-based mental health approach for the next century.
So, let’s share, create and innovate. Together, we will catapult mental health into the next century.